The Last Voyage of The Bonnie Fortune: Part One
Also by draconis
1. A stranger in the harbor
The docks filled with mist. The pirates and dockworkers paused for a moment as it rolled in; they were used to mist, but this was not like the usual calm, light, fog that built up in the mornings and evenings. It looked like the mist was pushed into the dock, like a solid object.
A worn-down ship followed the mist, docking silently. The bow of the ship hit the edge of the dock with a soft thump, and through the mist, the nearby pets could see the damage done to the ship. One of the three masts was broken, resting in a crooked angle against the side of the ship. The hull was littered with small, neat holes. The sails hanging on the two remaining masts were ripped into ragged shreds.
In the talk which followed afterwards, most pets agreed that such derelict sails shouldn't be able to catch the wind at all, let alone move a ship forward.
But the most noticeable thing of all was the silence. Not just among the otherwise loud dockworkers who worked late nights, but the whole dock seemed covered in silence. The ship seemed to be the source of the silence; no cheers from pets longing to go back on land and spend their freshly earned gold, no shouts from navigators, captains, or workers. For an eerie moment, the silence seemed to even drown out the loud singing from the Golden Dubloon.
There was just silence. Silence, and the hollow thumps of footsteps.
A shadow appeared in the cold, wet and almost suffocating mist, walking slowly down the gangplank, each footstep producing another hollow thump. A scrawny figure emerged from the mist; a white Kougra, impossibly thin and impossibly tall. His eyes were as black as the night itself and his face was drawn, the soft shadow of his cheekbones visible through the scabbed fur. A broken figure, starved by months of trailing the currents.
The Kougra moved towards the crowd in the same slow but deliberate gait, and the small crowd of onlookers stood unsteadily for a moment and then drew back as they felt the cold emanating from the Kougra like an aura of mist.
The Kougra stopped momentarily, looking at the onlookers with flat bemusement.
"Where's the local waterhole?" he said in a low, booming voice. It sounded like the ever-moving surf beating upon the docks.
The crowd stood in silence, watching this apparition, and then a slightly trembling hand emerged, pointing towards the Golden Dubloon.
"`Tis up thar, ye canna miss 't," an old, blue Krawk said in a trembling voice which matched his hand. The Kougra turned to look in the direction the hand pointed and then read the sign out loud in the same low huff, nearly sighing the words.
The group of pets looked after him until he disappeared through the batwing doors and then turned to the ship. The ghostly Kougra was just a single pet leaving a freshly docked ship which looked to have travelled to the edge of the world and back. A single pet couldn't run a ship that size, so where were the others? And what had happened to the ship?
2. The Golden Dubloon
The Kougra entered the Golden Dubloon and the room fell silent. Several pirates were gathered at the table nearest the door, shouting curses and threats as they bickered over who had won the latest round of the card game. The Kougra ignored them as they turned to look at him, their mouths hanging open and their argument forgotten.
He walked towards the bar and the silence spread around him like a wave. The piano stopped with a dull clunk of a sour note and the revelers' song trailed off, leaving a single grey Kacheek bawling the song on his own as his mates turned to look at the fresh apparition. Two pets, a large yellow Lenny and a grey Krawk, fought in an avid brawl. As the Krawk took the Lenny in a neck hold they both noticed the silence and their fight trailed to a stop, the Krawk still holding the Lenny under one arm. As the Kougra walked past, they looked like two friends embracing each other.
The bartender, a pirate Lupe, watched this with mild interest. It was spectacular to see the 'Dubloon silent; this hadn't happened in many years, not since the cannon factory blew up twenty years ago. But it was just one more weird happening, and after so many years working the 'Dubloon he was used to weird things.
"What ye havin'?" the bartender asked as the Kougra sat down on one of the stools lining the bar.
"Tchea grog. And keep them coming."
"Aye. Ye sure ye can pay?" the bartender asked in a suspicious tone before adding in a -slightly- kinder tone, "I canna give 't t' ye fer nothin'."
The Kougra didn't respond in words. Instead he pulled a bag full of dubloons from his coat pocket and emptied it onto the bar.
The pets of the Golden Dubloon gave a collective gasp as they saw the pile and the bag. Few had seen so many dubloons before; even fewer had seen such a bounty belong to a single pet.
The bartender picked up one of the dubloons and squinted at it. He bit down on it, and then nodded to himself. He then pulled two flasks of Tchea Grog from the shelf behind him and poured the first flask into a glass which he shoved towards the Kougra. The Kougra downed the first glass in a single sip and the bartender refilled the glass at once, picking one of the cheaper dubloons from the pile as the Kougra began stacking them slowly and deliberately.
The ritual continued; the Kougra downed the whole glass and the bartender refilled it. Slowly the pirates went back to their usual business and after the fifth glass the 'Dubloon was back to normal.
"Ye be nay from around here, be ye?" the bartender asked whilst drying off a glass. The Kougra looked up from his grog, glanced up at the bartender and shook his head.
"No," the Kougra sighed. "I'm from a place far away from here."
"That's yer ship, ain't 't?" the bartender asked, gesturing at the window and the ship barely visible through it. He gave a booming laugh and then continued, "Ye dasn't look like a seafarin' hearty t' me."
"Yes, that's my ship, and if by 'seafarin' hearty' you mean 'pirate', then no. No, I'm not a pirate. I'm an adventurer," the Kougra said. He poked a single claw at the pile of dubloons, now all neatly stacked, and added, "Treasure seeker."
"Ah, aye, treasures. Did ye find anythin'?" the bartender asked, sounding genuinely curious. The pirates who were sitting within earshot became curious as well, and moved closer to the Kougra.
"Oh, I found something, but it wasn't treasure," the Kougra said and drank up his grog in one swallow. He tapped the empty glass and the bartender nodded.
"Aye, ye look like ye need 'nother one," the bartender agreed and poured another Tchea grog for the Kougra who looked a lot paler now. Paler than white. Whiter than white. "So what did ye find?"
"It's a long story." The Kougra took a sip of his grog.
"Aye, stories are," the bartender agreed. "But ye don' come in lookin' like ye do without havin' a story t' tell."
The Kougra uttered a short laugh; a sound like gravel rolling off a shovel, and nodded in agreement.
"Well, first you need to know who I am," the Kougra said in a murky voice. "I'm Ximor, and I'm the captain of the finest ship Neopia have seen. The Bonnie Fortune."
"That hulk?" a nearby Krawk asked in an unstable voice. "I's seen bathtubs more seaworthy."
"I doubt you've seen a bathtub at all," Ximor replied flatly and the small group of listeners laughed.
The Krawk looked momentarily offended and then turned his eyes back to the bar.
Ximor looked back at his ship through the dirty window and sighed.
"She doesn't look like much now, but she was worth her weight in gold," he said, nearly sighing the words. "I had the finest crew an adventurer such as myself could have."
And so, the story began.
3. An adventure awaits
The storms which had blown over Altador, cleared in a matter of hours, leaving behind a clear, sunny sky and a light breeze. It was as though even the weather was anxious to see the Bonnie Fortune take to her sails again.
Ximor sat in his cabin, studying his map, trailing a worn quill over the various islands. Each island had a similar black X marked on it; the sign that the island had been explored. They were nearing the biggest problem an explorer could ever find; having nowhere to go.
Being stuck in Altador for four days had been bad enough. The crew had grown restless. But telling them they would be docked even longer until someone found somewhere to go?
"Ximor! Ximor!" a voice yelled. Ximor looked up, his thoughts dispelled by the sound. For once he didn't mind.
He looked out the cabin window and saw the tiny yellow Kacheek standing just outside. He slid the window open and said, "I'm in the cabin, Tony. You don't have to yell."
Tony yelped, leaping into the air. He turned to Ximor and gave him an annoyed look.
"You scared me!" he said sourly.
Everything scares you, Ximor thought to himself, even your own shadow. He imagined Tony climbing the mast to avoid his own shadow and laughed. "Sorry, Tony. What do you want? I'm a little busy here."
"The guys are getting restless," Tony said and then walked around to the door, entering the cabin seconds later. He looked at the map and then added, "They want to know when we're setting off."
"That's what I'm trying to figure out," Ximor replied and gave the map another quick glance. Then he admitted the one thing he didn't want to face. "We're running out of places to go."
Tony pointed to an island on the other side of the map.
"What about this one? Do we know anything about it?"
Ximor looked at the island Tony pointed at and then crossed it out. Tony gave him a questioning look and he explained, "We're already been there; I just forgot to mark it."
"Oh," Tony said flatly, his face falling slightly. Then his face lit up again in hope and he asked, "Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure," Ximor replied, a bit too harshly. "Vacation home of that big shot from Krawk Island, a buried pirate treasure, and you got seasick rowing downriver back to the boat."
"Oh," Tony repeated, his face once again falling in disappointment. Ximor looked up at him, hoping he would explain that mystery, but Tony said nothing about how an experienced seafarer could get seasick in a river.
They remained silent for a while as they both studied the map, and after several minutes Tony pointed to another island.
"What about this one?" he asked and Ximor shook his head at once.
"What?" Ximor asked and then looked down at the map again, looking at where Tony was pointing. An island.
How did I miss that island? he wondered, and then noticed the crosses around the island. Was that it? One cross for each storm they had encountered, and this island was surrounded by crossing, each one around fifty miles from the shore.
"Storms," he told Tony, gesturing at the many miniature crosses, but he already knew that wasn't a good enough excuse. Something felt wrong about the island. He had owned this map for years ¬¬- it was almost as old as Bonnie herself, so why hadn't he noticed this island before?
"Bonnie'll handle it." Tony chirped happily. "She's the best ship in Neopia, isn't she?"
"I dunno..." Ximor said doubtfully, looking down at the island and the surrounding crosses. X marks the spot for storms which had made them turn back; approach with caution, if at all.
He considered it for a long time and Tony stood by his side, watching him eagerly. Then, after what felt like hours, he decided.
"Tell the guys we're ready to set sail at noon!"
"Yes, Ximor!" Tony said and ran out of the cabin to tell the others to get ready.
4. The Bonnie Fortune
Ximor walked out on deck and watched as his crew got the ship ready. All at once the ship seemed alive with movement as deckhands scuttled around and the sails were raised.
The Bonnie Fortune was a beautiful ship. Golden brown, white trim and sails and a beautiful figurehead shaped like a water faerie smiling up at the clouds ahead. She was also a fast ship. Ximor never regretted buying her, even if he had to sell his house. The Bonnie Fortune was his home now, named after what she was. The years he had spent working on her every waking hour of the day was worth it.
This ship was his own bonnie fortune.
Ximor walked up to the ship's wheel and grinned to himself when he saw the red bow tied on one of the pins. Just one of the crew's many small things. He guessed Sara had done it.
Sara was the ship's musician; a pearly white Poogle with hair as red as an autumn sunset. She was the reason the crew was in good mood through the journeys they made; always willing to strike up a tune on the fiddle or perform those small things which brought out a smile from everybody. Like tying a red bow on the ship wheel.
Ximor looked up and saw Sara sitting in the mast, holding one of the ropes for balance as she sang a shanty for the pets working below her.
Ximor continued steering the ship, thinking his own thoughts while Tony stood next to him, helping him look at the map to make sure they were on the right course. Unlike the rest of the crew, Tony didn't serve any real purpose on the ship, and his only other chores involved poking Ximor if he wandered off in thoughts, as he usually would, and reminding him when it was time to eat. This latter part was something he did now.
Ximor looked over at Tony, at first not believing it was dinnertime yet. It had been noon just a few minutes ago. But the smell rising to him said it was dinner. He sniffed deeply, inhaling the smells of the salty sea and the food being cooked below.
"Hmm, Klaus is making meatballs and beans again," Ximor remarked and Tony nodded eagerly.
"Yum-yum!" he said and Ximor smiled. Only Tony could say things like that and get away with it. If he had uttered "yum-yum" he would be laughed off the ship.
Yum-yum was the best way to describe the food, though. Klaus, the ship's cook, could make anything taste yum-yum.
All cooks worth their salt bragged that they could make a boot taste good, but this big green Skeith actually could. He had won a cooking contest years ago and then been disqualified when the jury realized he hadn't been joking when he said it was an old boot he had cooked.
"Dinner!" Klaus roared, and Tony yelped with joy and ran towards the galley.
"Hey!" Ximor yelled and Tony skidded to a halt and turned back to him. "Bring me back a plate when you're done eating," he shouted and Tony nodded.
"Don't you want to eat with the rest of us?" Tony asked.
"Someone has to steer the ship while you guys stuff your faces," Ximor said jokingly.
"Heh, I guess so. See you later," Tony said and walked away.
Ximor liked standing alone steering The Bonnie Fortune. Especially when they had such nice weather. He knew exactly what to do, where to go and how to get there. He knew the waters well, even though this island was unfamiliar, he had a sneaky suspicion he had been around there before.
The island, on the other hand... Why hadn't he seen that before? He'd had that map for years, and somehow he'd missed seeing the island there completely. Stranger things have happened before, but this was pretty strange as well.
Something touched his shoulder and he yelped loudly in surprise and then swore as he saw Tony standing beside him, grinning.
"You looked lost. I thought it would be best to bring you back. Oh, and here's your food." Tony handed Ximor a plate of meatballs and beans.
"Ah, thanks, Tony. Do you mind taking over while I eat?" Ximor stepped down to let Tony handle the steering. Even though Tony was a tiny guy, he could still see clear over the wheel. Tony was tiny, but standing beside Ximor, everyone was tiny.
They still had a long time left before they reached the island. Those days would go by fast, and soon, they would wish they'd never gotten there.
To be continued...